Top 10 SEO ranking factor changes in 2015: Searchmetrics report takeaways

| 10 Sep, 2015

The Searchmetrics ranking factors report is one of the industry’s most followed whitepapers for CMOs, SEOs and content marketers looking to improve their website's ranking.

From the report, I've picked out exactly what has changed in influencing SERP rankings since 2014. 

Click below the read the full report "Search Ranking Factors 2015: Understand how the deck is stacked":

Searchmetrics Ranking Factors Report 2015

 1. Keywords in your domain 

Sites that rank highly are now less likely to have keywords as part of their domain name (down from 9% to 6%).

Keywords in a domain name as a ranking factor have lost their former positive effect.

Your website domain name should represent your brand, not one or more keywords, one reason being that brand searches for keyword + brand, for example, influence search results for non-brand terms.  

2. The halo effect of HTTPS 

HTTPS encryption is not a requirement for all sites, mainly for ecommerce or sites with privacy requirements, but the security it offers is a bonus – as it increases trust and conversion rates, and therefore rankings...

3. Beware of advertising on your site

Too many adverts or overlay ads – basically anything that has a negative impact on UX gets penalised.

The indicator? The percentage of top 30 sites that integrate Google AdSense ads has declined…

4. Larger word counts… or better structure?

Technically both. The number of words on landing pages has increased (from 902 in 2014 within the top 30 pages to 1140 now).

But this needs to be within a sophisticated content structure that flows with the user journey.

Sites with larger file sizes are also ranking higher - this may be as a result of more images, image galleries or rich media like video. 

5. Conversational language up, keywords down

60% of the top 10 ranked sites still include keywords in their meta-descriptions – but the correlation has dropped, “slipping into the negative zone”.

As is with meta descriptions, and content in general.

Less focus should now be on keywords and greater focus put on creating natural 'human' conversational content and clear themes on your pages.

Hundreds of keywords, high ‘semantic density’ and relevant words are all part of the ranking process in good pages, but the shift is continuing toward simplifying and humanising online language.

6.    Brand character and internal and external URLs

Having keywords within your anchor text via internal links benefits organic performance. This is not the case for external links, however, these benefit from brand ‘character’ i.e. brand words and terms.”

It’s not just the labelling of internal links but ultimately “a good internal link structure with corresponding keywords is important for securing high rankings.”

7. Verified themes and proof words

'Proof Terms' are words that are highly relevant to the primary keyword and are therefore more than likely to appear on the same page.

For example, words that verify the content topic, say if I had a blog post about ‘recipes for summer’ it could include the proof words; salad, cook, picnic, Pimm's. (And n-grams (multiple terms) like summer pudding.)

51% of the top 30 websites this year integrated relevant terms and 78% of highly ranking websites now use proof terms.

8. Social signal changes: Talked about brands

Social signals as a ranking factor remain highly important but has increased exponentially in the top places.

Ranking factor influence changes by social channel:


Has decreased slightly but is still important.


Continues to increase.


Has increased because the number of shares and likes and the sites ranking correlation is higher. For example, position one websites have twice as many Facebook signals thank pages ranking second.

9.   Will brand mentions become the new backlinks?

Links, like social signals, should occur as a ‘bi-product’ of being a brand, i.e. a single backlink won’t increase SERP position.

The proportion of nofollow backlinks has increased strongly from 6% of the top 10 in to 9% now.

The theme of brand behaviour with integrity is echoed in links now being viewed in the same way as social signals and “mentions” – i.e. domains or brands being referenced without being linked.

These are to play an increasingly role for thematically related domains.

10.   Three ranking factors continuing to grow in relevance:

  • There was a very big emphasis on UX (site usability) in this years’ report and there was a whole new section to prove it and Google’s prioritisation of the end user.
  • A high site or page bounce rate is a big red flag – if there is a high bounce consider deleting that page altogether or seek advice to rectify it, to prevent being penalised.
  • Websites are growing in file size and this is good for ranking,  however, only if it still loads quickly – site speed is paramount.

Find out more or contact us if you would like to find out more about how we can assist your SEO strategy. 


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